It was about nine thirty when we walked down, past the beach bar, to the landing site. This was where all the plastic that had been collected on the beach was left. As we walked over Cam told me that there used to be a company that would collect the waste, sort it and recycle it, but now they seemed to be out of business.
We walked along a path that runs perpendicularly away from the sea. There was a small hut that I recognised from watching documentaries about the Kuruwitu Welfare and Conservation Association (KWCA). They’ve held all kinds of meetings there, some just with local fishermen and some with scientists from all over Kenya and other parts of Africa to learn about how you can sustainably manage a Marine Protected Area.
Just past the hut was where all the waste is. The amount of plastic that we saw as we walked along the dusty road was, and still is, staggering. It was difficult to get a sense of just how much plastic there was, but I could see enough to know that it was bad. Really bad. It sickened me a little bit.
And then it sickened me a lot
We had come down to sort through some of the waste and take some parts that we can use for artwork and crafts. We wanted bottle caps and flip-flops of all different sizes and colours. As we surveyed the huge piles of plastic it was difficult to know where to start. I started noticing bottle caps on some of the bottles and twisted them off, throwing them into the weaved baskets we brought for the purpose. I stepped onto a pile, leaning in to pull a Sprite bottle towards me, and Cam cheerfully shouted from another pile further down,
“Oh and watch out for snakes. All this warm plastic is like a snake heaven,”
I quickly jump off.
“Well that’s nice to know, thanks Cam,” I shouted back, hastily pulling back and throwing the green cap into my basket. I rooted through the bottles on the edges, going slowly in case of snakes, when I came across a very familiar shape. It took me a moment to place it in my mind. It was the ridged shell of a party popper. This may sound foolish, but I was really quite shocked. I had never really thought about the environmental impact of party poppers before.
I thought about the person who pulled it, about how maybe they had been at a party, maybe it was fun, maybe it was boring, how afterwards they probably just threw it in the bin without a second thought and now here it was, washed up miles away on a beautiful and pristine beach. I wondered if I could tell that person what had happened to that seemingly innocent piece of plastic, what they would say. Would they think it was worth it for that little tangle of string and a small ‘pop’? I thought of all of the party poppers that I must have pulled over the years and how many of them probably ended up on a beach just like this one.
I was disgusted.
The sheer number and variety of items in these piles was almost incredible. Flip-flops and bottles made up a large percentage, but then there were toothpaste tubes, spray cans, gum wrappers, paint jars and even wigs. The throwaway culture that we live in was pretty much epitomised in this one area. I promised myself there and then to try and reduce as much plastic in my life as possible. Easier said than done I know, but nothing could be worth this.
Cameron and I headed over to one of the piles which we christened flip-flop mountain. It was oddly beautiful, made up of thousands of small cut up pieces of flip-flop.
“Why are they all in such small pieces?” I asked
“There was a flip-flop artist who used loads of them to make things. These were her offcuts,” Cam explained, holding up a flip-flop with the outline of a rhino cut into it. There were loads of cool shapes and colours to collect. There were fish, sea horses, elephants, giraffe; so we’d have lots to work with when we got to making later on in the week. I hoped that we could turn at least a little bit of this shameful ugliness into something worthwhile and maybe even beautiful.
It was really hot and being this far in from the beach meant there was little or no breeze. I could feel myself sweating off my suncream into my shirt. After collecting a couple of baskets of materials we walked back to the beach bar where Yael was planning out her mural and finishing off the blackboard. She’s going to paint the wall that runs alongside next to the piles of plastic. About 5m so far have been plastered but there’s another 30m or so to go if we can get the money to have it done. She’s aiming to paint a scene that starts at the beginning of the wall with the reef being healthy and alive, but progresses through to when it was overfished and plagued with sea urchins, then it will depict the villagers talking about what to do, and then through to the reef as it is today, vibrant and thriving once more. Needless to say, it’s quite a task, so that’s what she is going to be spending a lot of time on.
Cam sat down to look at his phone, but I couldn’t wait any longer. The sea was too tantalising. I tore off my shorts and top, grabbed my snorkel and, shouting a quick goodbye over my shoulder, headed into the water.
- Plastic sorting
- Finishing the blackboard
- Culture walk through the village
- Night walk along the beach